Antiques dealer's collection of offbeat and extraordinary objects to be auctioned in UK

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Antiques dealer's collection of offbeat and extraordinary objects to be auctioned in UK
Straw Box: A handsome straw work box in the form of a book tells the story of an early-19th-century French prisoner-of-war. Estimate £800-£1,200 ($1,010-$1,515). Sworders image.

STANSTED MOUNTFICHET.- Items from the remarkable collection of art and antiques dealer Warner Dailey will be sold on February 22 at Sworders auction house in England. Some 300 lots coming directly from Dailey’s southeast London residence will be offered.

American-born Warner Dailey moved to London as a young man and worked his way up from a counter job at Christie’s to being a trusted ‘runner’ for Malcolm Forbes and other notables.

For Warner Dailey, the collecting habit was formed early in his life. An only child born in New Jersey in 1945, he was trading badges (pins) in pre-school before graduating to stamps and shells. After moving to London in 1968 with $1,000 and the promise of a job at the front counter at Christie’s, Dailey soon became entrenched in the auction business. He spent the 1970s and ’80s working as a “runner,” driving a Mercedes-Benz Estate wagon around the south of England and scouring antique shops for objects that ranged from the best in Russian objets d’art to the weird and wonderful. His clients included the American publishing magnate and Fabergé fanatic Malcolm Forbes, who paid Dailey a retainer to find items for him.

Having bought and sold an estimated 100,000 pieces in his career, Dailey’s Lewisham (London) home groans under the weight of pictures, natural history specimens, tribal art, exotic textiles and objects that just demand to be picked up and studied.

“Collecting has been almost everything in my life. It is a constant stimulation that you can’t get from anything else. What I value most is the gathering, the learning and the experience of what these objects give you,” Dailey said. The three words he uses to describe the collection are “historic, eclectic, and unusual.”

Estimates at Sworders’ sale range from £300-£400 ($380-$505) for an early 19th-century iron anti-slavery tobacco box retaining its original white on green paintwork to £16,000-£20,000 ($20,180-$25,230) for a pair of fine silver-mounted 16-bore flintlock holster pistols engraved with the mermaid crest of Lord Byron’s father.

Dailey has a deep emotional connection to objects that come with a narrative – a story about prior ownership, an individual or a culture. Throughout his career he kept careful notes regarding his purchases to ensure the details were not lost. A handsome straw work box in the form of a book tells the story of the early-19th-century French prisoner-of-war who made it but also its more recent provenance, which includes the collection of John Paul Getty Jr. The box, gifted by Getty to heiress and fashion model Nicky Samuel during the Swinging Sixties, entered Dailey’s collection on October 20, 2014. Estimate: £800-£1,200 ($1,010-$1,515)

Among Dailey’s personal favourites is a small leather bag that holds several objects, including rings, bracelets, a tooth filling, and a label recording the items. They were found in the stomach of a man-eating crocodile shot in the Ganges river in 1915. Formerly in the collection of Jan and Craig Finch, it comes to auction with an estimate of £700-£900 ($880-$1,135).

Dailey tells the story that his love of objects suited to the legendary Kuntskammer or the Indian souk was inspired by a childhood visit to the home of a retired sea captain on Long Island. “There were all these wonderful things, from the jaw of a sperm whale to a Maori tattooed head, and I thought, ‘One day I want to have a house and collection like this.’”

One of several maritime lots in the sale consists of the seaman's papers of Charles Green (1888-1974), documenting his life at sea. The experience included two years with Ernest Shackleton in Antarctica as part of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914-16. Green was the ship's cook. He was among the men who remained on Elephant Island when Shackleton and five crew sailed to a whaling station in South Georgia, returning to save the entire crew three months later. Acquired from antiques dealer Laurence Langford, it is estimated at £400-£600 ($505-$755).

A Victorian oak and gunmetal walking stick is engraved to the knop with a view of ships at sea and to the collar with the inscription Mary Rose Sunk 1545 Raised 1840. It was probably made from materials salvaged from the wreck of Henry VIII’s flagship by Charles and John Deane. Contracted to remove wrecks from the Solent by the Admiralty, they developed the first practical diving suit in 1837 with assistance of Augustus Siebe. The walking stick is estimated at £1,000-£1,500.

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